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I've been sat on this topic for a few weeks, unsure whether to place it here in Arts & Literature or under the Music sub-forum, ultimately deciding on here as its about books rather than the music they're written about.


One of my favourite genre's is books about music, be it musicians biographies, oral histories of musical scenes and genres, novels or graphical novels with music as a theme, whatever, and just wanted a space to share some of what I've read and get further recommendations.



The Dirt - Motley Crue


Starting with the most debauched on the list, now a Netflix movie, The Dirt is Motley Crue telling their own story and its as degrading as youd expect, probably more so. Though what I ultimately took from it is that Mick Mars is quite a tragic figure who operates at polar extremes seemingly all the time, at war with his body, his own sense of self and with his band mates.


The First 21 How I Became Nikki Sixx - Nikki Sixx


Which brings me into Nikki Sixx's book about before he became Nikki Sixx, being moved around from town to town, trying to find his own way, not quite as drug fuelled as he was in Motley Crue, but certainly beginning to head that way.


Playing the Bass with Three Left Hands - Will Carruthers


You cant mention drugs and music without mentioning psychadelia and honestly Will Carruthers is an excellent story teller for some genuinely funny experiences, hard graft and digging trenches for the cabling for Oasis' Knebworth show (iirc whilst on mushrooms)


Everybody Loves Our Town: A History of Grunge - Mark Yarn


The drug trend continues, with the explosion in Seattle of Grunge and later heroin. An amazing oral retelling from some of the biggest names from the scene, covering the formations of Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and the murder of The Gits' Mia Zappata.


Cant Stop, Wont Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation - - Jeff Chang


Going all the way back to Jamaican sound system parties, through the block parties of NYC, with the B-Boyz, grafiti artists and the origins of hip-hop, Jeff Chang's book is predominantly east coast focused, though it does go over to the West for a brief period, and feels exhaustive.


Chamber Music: About the Wu-Tang (in 36 Pieces) - Will Ashon


Staying with east coast hip hop and NYC, this 36 "Chamber" (instead of chapters) book is the telling of the formation of the Wu-Tang Clan, the members philosophies, their obsessions, the creation of Enter the Wu-Tang and a critique on the culture of hip-hop towards the end of the 80s and into the early 90s.


Blue in Green - Ram V, Anand RK, John Pearson, Aditya Bidikar, Tom Muller


A graphc novel by Ram V, a ghost story of sorts. A Jazz musician finds a photograph of a man he doesnt recognise after his mothers funeral and his investigation into who this man could be takes him down some dark paths.


Chopin's Piano -Paul Kildea


My current read, currently over a third of the way through.


Starting with the creation of the pianino that Chopin hired whilst in Majorca in the 1830's and begun writing his preludes on, the book proclaims to tell both the stories of the pianino itself and the music that was written on it, even as someone who's knowledge of classical musical terminology isn't very good, this is a really compelling read with the writer giving life to these, arguably, inanimate objects.

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Some great stuff there. I’d add Art Sex Music, the riveting autobiography by electronic music pioneer Cosey Fanni Tutti (of Throbbing Gristle and Chris & Cosey).

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Mark Oliver Everett (E from Eels) book Things The Grandchildren Should Know is great.

There's a lot of death and sadness in his background but he writes about it with charm and humour.

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I've recently finished The Islander: My Life in Music and Beyond. It's the biography of Chris Blackwell who founded Island records. There are a good number of hugely successful bands who probably wouldn't have made it without him. His passion for music and care for the artists (often to his personal cost) really shines through. Without him you probably wouldn't have Bob Marley, King Crimson and Talking Heads to name a tiny few off the top of my head.



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A couple of music books I love.


How Music Works by David Byrne. 

It's part Talking Heads bio, part history of music performance and part David Byrnes own theories on why music works.

How Music Got free by Stephen Witt.

This is the story of digital music and piracy. It looks at 3 events; the creation of the MP3 format, the rise of Napster and the warez scene and the music industries responce to it. And how these merge to give us the contemporary music scene. 


This is a brilliant read with loads of fascinating details and anecdotes. Like how the developers of the MP3 format 'lost' the format developing war. But once the MP3 format was available it quickly became a world standard and the victorious file format was pretty soon forgotten. 

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The 33⅓ series of books are generally good. Pick one on a favourite album and it's a good bet that the book will contain something insightful!



Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties - Ian MacDonald 


This is the big one for me. There's a lot to disagree with in both MacDonald's big sociological essay and his song-by-song criticism. (It's quite funny to contrast his dismissal of "heavy" songs like While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Helter Skelter, and I Want You (She's So Heavy) against the reverence with which they're held by modern online Beatles fans and guitar nerds.) And some of his conclusions are a bit dubious (like the bit about how the crypticness of I am the Walrus and Glass Onion was almost inviting the attention of Manson and Chapman). 


But the sheer scale of what's covered in the book and how readable he made it, makes it essential reading not just for Beatles fans, but anyone with an interest in 20th century pop culture.




Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music - Hugh Barker & Yuval Taylor


A really wide-ranging book about how musicians and audiences perceive the ideas of staying authentic, selling out, keeping it real, making manufactured pop, giving the audience what they want - all that sort of thing.


The most substantial section of the book is the first part about how blues music came to be revered for its authenticity, about how ethnomusicologists like John and Alan Lomax set out to do field recordings of the pure roots of black American music... and ended up struggling to find anything that hadn't been "corrupted" by the influence of white western music. It talks about how promoters misrepresented blues musicians like Leadbelly in an effort to tell stories and give white audiences what they wanted to hear. (The book connects this to what Kurt Cobain was trying to capture with his MTV Unplugged performance of Where Did you Sleep Last Night?)


Also covered in the book: Elvis, The Monkees, punk, disco, and Neil Young intentionally including sloppy drunken performances on Tonight's the Night.


Good review of it here:





Popular - Tom Ewing



A while ago there was a bit of a cottage industry of retrospective, chronological chart music blogs. US Number Ones (We Are Number Ones), UK Number Twos (Music Sounds Better With Two), UK Number One Albums (Then Play Long).


But the king of these is Popular, by Tom Ewing (brother of the comics writer Al Ewing). 


I think this blog might have been the first place I discovered the eternal war between poptimism and rockism. :ph34r:


And just like our Edge threads, there are lots and lots of score ratings to disagree with!


Favourite entry? I think I've linked to the one on Candle in the Wind before, as it does a great job of summing up the country's collective madness when Diana died. But I think my favourite is still the very first post I ever read on the blog: (Everything I Do) I Do It For You: Sixteen listens in a row for sixteen weeks at number one




Pushing Ahead of the Dame - Chris O’Leary



As well as the blogs going chronologically through chart music, there was also a trend of blogs going through specific musicians' discographies song by song. Probably the most substantial of these is this blog about David Bowie.


(The blog entries were later published as two books - Rebel Rebel and Ashes to Ashes - but I haven't read those.)

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On 19/03/2023 at 12:17, Silent Runner said:

Like how the developers of the MP3 format 'lost' the format developing war. But once the MP3 format was available it quickly became a world standard and the victorious file format was pretty soon forgotten. 


Who / what did it lose against?

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Read this recently and it was really interesting. 

Exit Stage Left by Nick Duerden. 
The curious afterlife of pop stars. It’s various tales of pop stars as they’ve faded into obscurity and also tells of those who’ve had great longevity or who rose from the ashes of their previous success. 

What makes this so great is the sheer range of stars that feature and not in a stolen quote here or there but decent interviews that inform and entertain. Shaun Ryder, Robbie Williams, Billy Bragg, Suzanne Vega, Leo Sayer, Lisa Maffia, KLF and many more are all featured. 

It’s mostly British artists or various genres and even the ones you’re not that interested in prove engaging. Recommended. 

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2 hours ago, Don Rosco said:


Who / what did it lose against?


At the time the group who developed the mp3 format (German PHD students and researchers) were funded by the German state. They had worked for years building the algorithm and trying to monetise it. They ended up in competition with an international consortium which was essentially Philips and other electronics companies. They both presented their software to the MPEG group who would give the seal of approval to one method of audio-compression. Eventually MPEG decided they would approve the Philips tech which they called 'Moving Picture Experts Group, Audio Layer II' which became known as mp2. And the German tech eventually became known as 'Moving Picture Experts Group, Audio Layer III'  aka mp3.


mp2 became the standard for CD-ROMs, VCDs, digital radio and more. mp3 got licensed for nothing. The German lads eventually wrote encoding software that allowed users make their own mp3s on their home computers and basically gave it away for nothing. Then the internet happened, the encoding software spread, then Napster etc. And mp3s ate the World.


That story is covered in chapter 1 of How Music Got Free - and I think you can read it in the preview of the book on Amazon. 

Edited by Silent Runner
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Excellent - the power of free software. Mate of mine wrote spam assassin which was the first anti-spam software to score characteristics in an email. He could have gone down the road of building a company and selling it, but it ended up as open source through the apache foundation. His software has touched billions of emails now, it wouldn't have been nearly as widely used if he tried to go the entrepreneurial route.

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Anyone who likes music and / or Mariah Carey should read The Meaning of Mariah Carey, it’s a riveting account of how she got to the top while clawing her way out of a jaw-dropping set of adverse life circumstances. And had to keep clawing her way out when she was at the top too.


I’ve always loved her but assumed her song choices were manufactured, whereas she actually wrote and produced / co-produced pretty much everything she ever did. Really educational.

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  • 1 month later...

Blues People: Negro Music in White America - LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka)


In parts a really interesting but also frustrating read. Written in the early 60s and full of language that was acceptable at the time the book begins with the origins of black music in America through slaves bringing African music across, its transformations whilst in slavery, the black slaves adoption of the Christian church due to their prior religions being banned and upto and including Jazz. The title mentions Blues, but Blues is only really referred to as an attitude and the focus becomes heavily on Jazz and it's derivatives. There's alot of anonymosity towards white adopters of early 20th century black music but as a book about understanding the means with which black musicians expressed themselves (and you can certainly apply some of it to modern music) it's a good read.

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45 - Bill Drummond


Written by the KLF's Drummind when he was 45, it's basically a collection of essays. A lot of them concern his need to make art while also being worried that art is a pile of shite. It contains three essays in particular I love that constantly come into my mind.


1. A reflection upon the art works of Richard Long and whether he's a bullshit artist or not (he takes long walks). And what Drummond does to one of these artworks.


2. A reflection upon Tammy Wynette - his mixed pride and utter shame of having her sing their nonsense lyrics is fantastic to read.


3. The moment he realises the KLF are past it, and how he connects that to his disappointment with seeing The Residents in person - finally coming to a realisation that falling out of favour, and being fallible is the natural fate for any pop star, and totally normal.

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